If you do magic for a living, it’s easy to make the mistake of treating the magic business as a “job.” It’s so easy to get up in the morning and go through the motions of sending off invoices and marketing materials, rehearsing, loading the car and heading off to a gig in the same melancholy way that a typical 9-5 employee begins their mundane daily grind.
As magicians, we can’t afford to do that.
In the eyes of the public, magic entertainers are the closest thing to real-life superheroes that people will ever see. If we merely go through the motions of the magic performance, we are not giving the show or the audience our “all.” A few minutes ago I arrived home from a morning magic show performance at a child care facility here in Midland, Texas. If you look at my website, you’ll see that my work isn’t immediately geared towards young children. While I do magic performances for kids, it’s usually for a family audience; meaning that I entertain all age groups at once with an emphasis on the grown-ups. In my head I equate the age range of my work to that of an episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who. My work is something that kids can enjoy but it wasn’t necessarily designed for young children.
Nevertheless, I had received a call a few weeks prior from a teacher at a childcare facility who wanted me to entertain for their summer program. Due to covid it had been a few years since I last stepped foot in a school of any kind to work.
I woke up and loaded my car; showered and put on a magical outfit. I printed off a copy of the invoice and drove off to the facility. I was greeted at the door by a front desk clerk who promptly took my temperature and offered me a disposable face mask (something I’m still not used to doing). Despite the face mask I felt good about the event. The act was ready and so was I.
I returned to my car to fetch my props and rolling table and returned to the inside. The room where I would be working was spacious and clean. As I began my setup the client approached me with a concerned look.
“Oh, you don’t look like you do in your photos Mr. Chadwick…” she said disappointingly. I apologized that I wasn’t dressed the way she had expected. She then said “I only have ten kids in my classroom today and I don’t know if this is worth it to us for you to only entertain so few kids. Can you come back another time?” I sensed there was more to the situation than she was letting on.
“Well, I can come back…” I explained as politely as I could while holding back my frustration. “…but I’m afraid that since I’m already here on location that the balance for the performance is still due. If it helps, you can invite more kids into the room from other classes to watch the show and get your money’s worth.”
She looked at me worriedly and said “Well it’s just that some of the kids in the other classes are shy and afraid of you.”
I took a deep breath and explained that this is a common problem in childcare centers and that younger children tend to have (and should have) fear of strangers in their perceived safe spaces and that it takes time for four-year-olds to warm up to newcomers.
I knew we had trouble. They were already frazzled at my reluctance to wear a mask; despite my showing no covid symptoms and my being vaccinated, and this was just more gas on the fire. I thought I looked pretty good! I was in an outfit I had worn to shows before; one that I even have had professional promotional photographs taken in; but apparently it didn’t look as good as I thought.
As I was loading in, the facility director approached me and shook my hand. I could tell she was also upset and concerned about the state of things. I smiled through my mask and continued setup to let her know that it would be an awesome show despite first impressions.
And then it got worse.
I opened my prop case and immediately a water bottle that I needed for a trick fell out of my case and poured onto the tile. I soaked up as much as I could but soon the custodian was summoned to mop up the excess water. I seldom perform with liquids to avoid this exact thing. And it would be TODAY that the water spilled out. I suppose when it rains, it pours.
I frantically continued to set up my act and be ready on time. Between all the drama my usual brief setup time was made even more brief as the kids sat down in front of me and made it clear that they would give me sixty seconds max before becoming victims to the “wiggle worms.”
One deep breath later the show was underway. I had resurrected my old “Be-a-Friend” themed school magic program and combined it with my “Magic in the Library” program to create a new show that would be unique to this audience called “Learn to Learn, Learn to Love.” I did a quick attention-getter activity to focus the kids’ attention. One comical Egg Bag routine later we were well on our way through a magical adventure!
The kids laughed and learned as one routine after another we explored the art of magic. The teachers in the room, including the reluctant client, were having as much fun as the kids! It turned out to be one of the best kid shows I’ve done in a very long time. I had only wished the facility director was there to see it as well.
After the show was over the kids were escorted back into their rooms. The client approached me and explained that it was a better event than what she had expected when I first walked in. I asked for her critique (something I never do BEFORE getting payment in hand) and she explained that my appearance just wasn’t what she was expecting. Apparently, my shirt was wrinkled, and my hair was messy. I probably looked like a homeless person and didn’t realize it! I offered a discounted rate on a future performance and assured her that there would be a different outfit for future events.
What’s the moral of the story? It’s that prior to my sour encounter with the client, I was treating this event as “just another day at the office.” Kids can suspend their disbelief and be more open to a performance but it is the client who’s reputation and money is on the line that has much less grace.
Had I have woken up about thirty minutes earlier to begin my day I may have spotted that my outfit was ruined and needed further attention. I also would have brought my own facemask so when asked to wear one I would appear more prepared and easy-going.
It’s so easy to treat the magic as “just another day at work” when the kids and clients are hoping to see a superhero. Even big-time Las Vegas performers fall into this same trap of “just another day.” When the sensation of magic is lost on us it’s also lost on the audience. I’m sure even Superman has the same issue of mundane days but we have to give 110% to every performance we do and go above and beyond the predispositions and expectations of our clients and audiences. It’s just good business. It’s what we do to live out our perceived status of superheroes and take the audience up, up and away.